As we embark on a new calendar year, I am intrigued, as I usually am, by the notion that a life is a unique and particular trace through the unknown. But I am even more deeply stirred by the idea that an integrity to each path is preserved, akin to the deepest natural laws ever discovered, that sustains at all times a most succinct route possible through suffering, regardless of what our choices may have been in the past. This perpetual sustenance presupposes that in every moment, a perfect response is given to the parameters of our knowing, our acting, and our being, such that our lives proceed inevitably through ignorance and difficulty, to grace.
Our unknowing, if you will, proceeds inevitably to knowing. But we have a role in this process. We can witness the underlying thread connecting our aspirations, our pain, our dreams–our most subtle natures, even–or we can remain distant from this active force in our lives. Either way it is not always easy-going.
We think sometimes that life would be easier, more enjoyable even, if we could carve out a self-perpetuating niche of solace, something like a trust fund of peace and quiet, or safety, in which we could remain. But our lives drag us forth from these niches and inevitably undo their very foundations, time and time again, so that we are unable to carve out from the wilderness of unknowing the one thing we have sought–some insulation from the travails of chaos and disappointment, from the threat of illness, poverty, isolation, and of course, the abyss of a mediocre status quo. A dull and grinding hanging-on that’s like the personal heat death of our universe.
This principle I am seeking to describe does not allow for psychological or physical retreat from the frontier of one’s imperfect knowing, because it is this frontier which is precisely the avenue held open to us through which wisdom may be encountered, and suffering undone. If one wishes to experience this movement towards grace as the very substance of their inner life, it helps I think, to accept that all other explanations for events are secondary to this fundamental force of being. Events themselves mean very little, but they reveal us. What is truly occurring in any circumstance is invisible, and most readily understood in terms of one’s unique awareness of resistance and desire.
While our personal desires are objectified or idealized–while we are striving in other words towards some consciously constructed ideal–then the tendency is to interpret our experiences through the lens of this desired outcome. Most often this leads to a resistance in one form or another to what is happening. Resistance sets into motion responses on our part that are intended to change something. This leads us into circular experiences I think, until we discover that the idealized outcome, the object of all our pursuits, was not actually one that life itself is willing to sustain. It was always a false premise.
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At the same time, I love that when the dust settles, we know ourselves. We know ourselves with an intimacy and a depth that is astonishing. We know our tendencies, our loves, our needs and our desires. And they are good. We know without needing to even think about it what makes us uniquely who we are. And if we sit with this knowing a little while, I think we even discover we’re each happy about who we are. We don’t really want to be someone else.
I like to read, to write, to get into deep conversations I can’t find my way back from. I like to explore ideas in physics and biology, to learn about the discoveries that propel us to new understanding, but I can only go so far before I must let it all fall away and abide for a time in the simplicity of being. I have to remain in contact with a visceral, effervescent inkling I feel at the core of my being that I can neither justify nor communicate to another human being. It enfolds me, bleeds across the boundaries I have constructed, flows in and out of who I think I am. The social interaction I most require is the quiet, intimate conversation or correspondence, and time spent alone to write or dream or create is a precious resource. But every half hour I wander down the hall to see what my wife is up to. This is who I am.
These are not the things we must forego. None of these individual inclinations or personal nuances create barriers to engaging deeply in the processes of life–processes that nudge us into healing, and then beyond the threshold into fields of pure creation. The edge we must lose to release our suffering is the edge of separateness, the edge of specialness, the edge of not good enough, the edge of vaunted ideals, the edge of resisting. As I write this a great many humans are in poverty, grappling with some form of disease, feeling put upon, encumbered, guilty, or uncertain of how best to proceed. In my heart I hope these become the hallmarks of a passing age. I can see how they might. When the puzzle pieces fall to the floor, in fact, I can see that they already have.
It’s intriguing to realize these are all just ideas–that we are bound so coherently to our ideas we can hardly distinguish them from the events in which they speak. It is all but impossible to comprehend that feeling as certain about different, new ideas as we do about the world we see today would yield a very different experience. We are not being led to a grace in which our unique and given talents, proclivities and attributes are lost, but one in which they are free of the need to be something different, something more, something perfected. I think the miracle of life is that it would ask us to be only who we are–nothing more and nothing less. And I hope in this year we each may recover a taste of the peace that resting on that simple, ineffable memory of who we are can offer us.